News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 14, 2011 in News

New Less Wrong posts:

From Twitter:

Oh and yes, ‘Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot’ will return. It’s taking longer than I had expected, though. Hang tight.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Leo August 15, 2011 at 5:47 am

“Oh and yes, ‘Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot’ will return.” Great!

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Choi August 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm

TAW nailed it.

“You’re trying to use methods of rationality to come up with the best way to appeal to emotions.”

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cl August 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Remind Physicalists They’re Physicalists

Of course, since many “physicalists” simply use “physicalism” as a handy euphemism for “all that we could every possibly validate as existing” -ism, this is a pretty meaningless statement.

I also got a chuckle out of the fact that Luke is still bastardizing these “studies” as conclusive or semi-conclusive evidence against free will, despite the direct admonition not to do so by Dr. Marcel Brass — ironically an author of the study Luke pointed to. I happen to know for a fact that Luke knows Brass cautioned him in this regard, which makes this behavior extra-suspect IMHO.

Read between the lines, people!

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PDH August 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm

cl wrote,

Of course, since many “physicalists” simply use “physicalism” as a handy euphemism for “all that we could every possibly validate as existing” -ism, this is a pretty meaningless statement.

‘Physicalism’ is a poorly defined concept because what most physicalists are married to, primarily, is not an ontology but an epistemology upon which basis they hold a certain ontology.

We want a term for our worldview that captures the idea that the way in which we arrive at our beliefs is as important as the beliefs themselves, yet every time we choose a word like ‘physicalism,’ ‘naturalism,’ etc. something about this approach is lost. People regard the term as just a set of beliefs (~dualism, ~contra-causal free-will and so forth) but a lot of people would like the freedom to be able to alter these positions in light of new evidence without having to come up with a new word for the whole worldview. A necessary consequence of this is that terms like ‘non-physical’ and ‘supernatural’ are entirely superfluous. By ‘nature’ we basically just mean ‘the things that probably exist.’

Is this unfair to supernaturalists? No! It’s just words. It won’t change the underlying reality. Just stick to specifics if it confuses you. You could ask, ‘Do you believe in souls?’ to which I would reply, ‘No. If they did exist, I would call them physical and natural but I don’t think that they do exist, so we can still argue about that. It doesn’t really matter what we call them. What matters is whether or not we believe in them and whether or not we should.’

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mojo.rhythm August 15, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Willingly Vague Claims defends his defense of genocide and infanticide in the Old Testament, further cementing his reputation as a theocratic, delusional nutcase.

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8973

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yourewrong August 16, 2011 at 8:00 am

cl wrote

Of course, since many “physicalists” simply use “physicalism” as a handy euphemism for “all that we could every possibly validate as existing” -ism

cite sources

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Rufus August 16, 2011 at 8:19 am

yourewrong,

I believe cl may have something like Hempel’s Dilemma in mind. The dilemma is essentially this,

. . .[I]f physicalism is defined via reference to contemporary physics, then it is false — after all, who thinks that contemporary physics is complete? — but if physicalism is defined via reference to a future or ideal physics, then it is trivial — after all, who can predict what a future physics contains? Perhaps, for example, it contains even mental items. The conclusion of the dilemma is that one has no clear concept of a physical property, no concept that is clear enough to do the job that philosophers of mind want the physical to play (D. Stoljar 2009, Physicalism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

See also C.G. Hempel (1969), “Reduction: Ontological and Linguistic Facets”, Philosophy, Science, and Method: 179–199.

Best,

Rufus

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Thomas August 18, 2011 at 1:47 am

From the Less Wrong post:

“Okay,” I said. “So the brain is made of atoms, and atoms move according to deterministic physical law, right?”

“Right,” she said.

“Okay. Now, think about the physical state of the entire universe one moment before you decided to say “Right” instead of something else, or instead of just nodding your head. If all those atoms, including the atoms in your brain, have to move to their next spot according to physical law, then could you have said anything else than what you did say in the next moment?” (Neither of us understood many-worlds yet, so you can assume we’re talking about a single Everett branch.)

She paused. “Huh. I’ll have to think about that.”

How is that not self-referentially incoherent? If she was determined to say “Right” via totally non-rational and deterministic causes, then Luke´s argument for determinism was also determined to come out of his mouth by non-rational and deterministic causes. Karl Popper said in The Self and its Brain that if reductive materialism is true, we couldn´t know that it´s true, because every argument for it would be caused by utterly non-rational, deterministic causes.

If I´m wrong about this, then could someone point out where the fault is? Why isn´t arguing for physicalism+determinism self-defeating?

Also, as cl pointed out, Libet´s experiments and other empirical studies that suggest determinism to be true, are dubious at best. The problem is that scientists making these studies seem to be incapable of making crucial distinctions between active and passive mental states (between choices or decisions and desires or beliefs). Various philosophers of action have pointed this out, like Mele in his new book Effective Intentions.

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cl August 21, 2011 at 9:28 am

pdh,

‘Physicalism’ is a poorly defined concept because what most physicalists are married to, primarily, is not an ontology but an epistemology upon which basis they hold a certain ontology.

Right. IOW, if we can’t detect it via the five senses, there’s no use in even talking about it. I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as a conversation stopper.

Is this unfair to supernaturalists? No! It’s just words.

It is true that “it doesn’t matter what we call them,” but my complaint does not reduce to a complaint about “just words.” When presented evidence for, say, souls or miracles, the physicalists I have in mind will simply reply with, “Well, even if those things exist, they’re more likely to be physical than non-physical.” But of course, that’s blatant equivocation.

My complaint is that “anything we could possibly ever detect via the senses” -ism is an empty position, and that too many atheists mistakenly use this empty position to bolster the superiority of their own metaphysic.

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